Costa Rica 31st Country to Legalise Gay Marriage

At 12.01am on 26 May, Costa Rica celebrated its first gay wedding. The event was broadcast live on national television, and was preceded by a three-hour special on LGBT struggles over the preceding decades.

Costa Rica’s “Family Law” had previously denied gay people the right to marry, but this was declared unconstitutional by the country’s Supreme Court in 2018. The court gave parliament 18 months to legislate a new law, after which time gay marriage would come into effect by default.

Scene from the midnight broadcast on national public television in Costa Rica.

As of May 2020, 31 countries or territories (including Taiwan and Greenland) have legalised gay marriage. The first was the Netherlands back in 2000.

Costa Rica is the first country in Central America to legalise gay marriage. Taiwan is the only Asian country to have done so, and South Africa remains the only African country, having legalised gay marriage 14 years ago.

The issue remains a polemical one in Latin America. Costa Rica’s 2018 election was dominated by the gay marriage debate, with opinion polls showing a bare 55% in favour and 41% openly against.

But since 2014 the country has been governed by the progressive Citizens’ Action Party. The party ensures 50% of its representatives are women, and moreover 10% of its representatives must be between the years of 18 and 35.

Progress has not been so straightforward everywhere. In Chile in April, a lesbian couple who sought to have their civil union recognised as a marriage lost their case in the country’s constitutional court.

Moreover, many activists criticise placing too much emphasis on gains in legal rights. In Mexico, for instance, though gay marriage is legal in many states, local statutes on “immoral” or “indecent” conduct facilitate homophobia from police and members of the public.

All the same, legal reforms such as Costa Rica’s are an important step in changing the underlying cultures of homophobia and discrimination.